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‘Biden may as well personally light more wildfires’: Backlash after White House calls for more oil production

UN’s authoritative climate report, published on Monday, urges drastic emissions cuts which means dialing back rapidly on use of fossil fuels

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Wednesday 11 August 2021 23:28 BST
5 key takeaways from the IPCC’s landmark climate report

The Biden administration is being slammed by both progressive environmentalists and from the right, following a statement pressing foreign nations to pump more oil in order to curb the rising gas prices they view as hindering economic recovery.

President Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan criticized OPEC+ – the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries with Russia and other big producers – for failing to sufficiently ramp up oil production levels following the Covid pandemic.

“At a critical moment in the global recovery, this is simply not enough,” Mr Sullivan said in a statement, noting that the price of crude oil is higher than at the end of 2019.

“Competitive energy markets will ensure reliable and stable energy supplies, and OPEC+ must do more to support the recovery,” he added.

OPEC+ had agreed at a July meeting to boost production by 400,000 barrels per day on a monthly basis through until December.

US economic recovery from Covid is a top priority for the Biden administration amid rising prices and supply chain issues which have fueled inflation concerns.

The price of a gallon of gas has jumped by roughly a dollar since 2020, to a national average of $3.19 this week. In May, the national average topped $3 for the first time in seven years. Other prices for US consumers rose in July but more slowly than earlier in the year.

However the demand for fossil fuels appears at odds with the Biden administration’s ambitions to be seen as a global leader in the climate crisis battle.

Just two days ago, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released an authoritative report which warned that the world will hit the Paris Agreement temperature limit of 1.5C sometime in the next 20 years.

There is also risk of far greater warming if little is done to tackle greenhouse gas emissions caused largely by the burning of fossil fuels. (Temperatures currently stand at around 1.2C above pre-industrial levels.)

“If Biden’s going to urge OPEC to increase oil production one day after the UN’s ‘code red’ climate report, he may as well come to California and personally light more wildfires,” Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, told The Independent in a statement.

“This US statement is horrifying, and we won’t stand for it. We’ll hold Biden accountable to his promises to lead on climate. There is no way to address the climate emergency without limiting oil production. They are one and the same.”

Seth Gladstone, director of media relations at Food & Water Watch, said: “Just days after the release of a United Nations report warning of unfathomable global climate catastrophe, it’s shocking that this administration would be pressuring other nations to produce more climate-killing fossil fuels, not less.

“President Biden claims to be taking the climate crisis seriously, but this is just the latest in a string of actions demonstrating that he simply can’t be trusted on this existential issue.”

The Biden administration has set big targets to transform America to a clean energy future. Some provisions to tackle climate change made it into the nearly $1trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, which passed the Senate on Tuesday, and more are promised in the $3.5tn budget plan aimed at bolstering America’s middle class and driving down emissions.

The White House defended the OPEC statement, telling The Independent that two things can be done at once: achieving US climate goals while ensuring an energy transition which accounts for the interests of the middle class, and meets energy needs for global economic recovery.

The White House official added that the administration was firmly committed to achieving net zero by 2050 and a clean power sector by 2035.

The statement appealing for foreign oil also gave Republicans – who have largely downplayed, ignored or denied the climate crisis including this week’s stark IPCC report – a drum to beat on Mr Biden’s clean energy plans.

“Proof Dem policies never work: Biden is now begging OPEC for oil. Maybe he shouldn’t have killed KeystoneXL. Or banned new drilling on fed land. Or pushed Green New Deal policies that kill our energy industry. We went from energy dominate to foreign oil dependent in 8 months,” tweeted House Republican Whip Steve Scalise.

OPEC+ made a record cut of 10million barrels in 2020 as oil prices collapsed when the pandemic largely shuttered the aviation industry and many global industries.

Demand has rebounded amid vaccine rollouts, although this has happened with wide disparities particularly for countries in the global south.

Separately on Wednesday, the administration called on the Federal Trade Commission to monitor US gas prices and “address any illegal conduct that might be contributing to price increases for consumers at the pump”.

The National Economic Council asked that the regulator look into why the price of gas was rising to ensure Americans are not being charged unfairly.

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